The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
In their seven years of existence, the Texans have never finished above .500 and they've never made the playoffs. The last important thing they won was the top pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. This is not exactly one of the league's most decorated franchises.
It can be argued (not well) that Houston's placement atop the 2009 Juggernaut Index is the greatest achievement in team history. When you sort through all the preseason ranks and ADPs, it's tough to make a case for any other squad. Consider these facts:
• Houston has two players who rank inside the overall top 12;
• Five Texans were taken within the first 100 picks in a typical draft, and two were selected inside the top 20;
• Houston's defense has a pair of elite IDPs – Mario Williams(notes) and DeMeco Ryans(notes) – yet the team D is still a sieve. The Texans allowed 24.6 points per game in '08 and 22.8 in the preseason. Every game has shootout potential.
It's a perfect fantasy storm, really. Houston offers high-end options at every position, each player's role is well defined, and the defense offers little resistance. (During exhibition play, the Texans' D specialized in giving up long rushing touchdowns. You'll find tape of Xavier Adibi(notes) over-pursuing here and of widespread disarray here). Unlike many analysts, we're not trying to convince you that the Texans will be a division winner…or any other sort of winner. We're merely urging you to invest in them for fantasy purposes.
Quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) has completed 66.2 percent of his passes over the past two seasons, and he threw for at least 250 yards in eight of his 11 games last year. He was one of the great bargains during draft season, with an ADP of 79.9. If you don't think he's a threat to crack the top five overall fantasy scorers in '09, then you haven't been paying attention.
Schaub's signature game in '08 was...well, there are really two candidates. It might have been Week 6 against Miami, when he passed for 379 yards and rushed for the game-winning TD in the final seconds. Or it may have been Week 14, when Schaub returned from a knee injury and threw for a career-high 414 yards in the brutal cold in Green Bay, leading his team to a 24-21 win. In that Packers game, he earned must-start status in fantasy leagues.
Before you complain that Schaub is a health risk, review the circumstances of each injury. Schaub carries the least deserved injury-prone label in NFL history. If it weren't for late and/or cheap hits by Albert Haynesworth(notes), Drayton Florence(notes) and Jared Allen(notes) – all penalized or fined – you wouldn't consider Schaub to be so delicate. (The Allen hit was as dirty as it gets. Way late, criminally cheap). Houston's offensive line is an underrated unit, too, but that's residue from the David Carr(notes) years.
The Texans' receiving corps is spectacular, one of the NFL's finest. Andre Johnson(notes) has led the league in receptions twice and he's averaged 6.8 catches per game over the past three seasons. That's just a ridiculous number. He also led the NFL in receiving yards last year (1575).
Houston's No. 2 receiver is Kevin Walter(notes), a man who's quietly delivered back-to-back 60-catch, 800-yard seasons. Walter was drafted as a low-end fantasy starter this year (ADP 78.1), and he's a safe bet to return at least a small profit. Andre Davis has proven to be a useful fantasy play whenever an opportunity presents itself; he caught 23 passes for 441 yards and three TDs during Johnson's seven-game absence in '07.
Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels(notes) is a pet player for many accredited fantasy gurus, and you can't argue with the catches or the yardage. He has 133 receptions for 1630 yards since '07. The only thing keeping Daniels out of the top-tier is a curious lack of touchdowns. He's found the end zone only five times in two seasons. You'll note that the Texans were frequent visitors to the red zone last year (61 possessions), but they didn't break the plane at a high rate (TD percentage 45.9). Daniels is 26, he's in search of Kellen Winslow(notes) money and his offense is terrific, so don't be shocked by a career year.
Running back Steve Slaton(notes) was one of the great late round picks/waiver adds of 2008. Despite doubts about his size (5-9), he ran for 1282 yards in his first year (4.8 per carry), he caught 50 passes and he scored 10 TDs. Slaton had 20 or more carries in five of the Texans' final six games. He enters '09 as the unchallenged feature back, and he's added weight (up to 215) in order to better handle the load.
Unfortunately, veteran Chris Brown is likely to poach a few touchdowns. Head coach Gary Kubiak recently described Brown's role this way: "Our goal is to use him basically as a short-yardage runner, a red zone runner and Steve's (Slaton) backup, so we have to plan to go about our business and hopefully we can keep him healthy." Be careful not to interpret Kubiak's statement as an indication that Slaton will be sidelined on all red zone possessions. Rather, he's saying that Brown won't be part of the equation except in short-yardage, or in case of emergency.
And that, at last, concludes the 2009 Juggernaut Index. Thank you all for your participation and input. If you buy a PLUS league you'll receive all 32 entries, leather-bound. Order today, gamers. Or simply express your gratitude in comments, like always…
The complete Index: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh, 14) Denver, 13) Chicago, 12) Minnesota, 11) Arizona, 10) Green Bay, 9) Dallas, 8) Carolina, 7) Atlanta, 6) Indianapolis, 5) San Diego, 4) New England, 3) Philadelphia, 2) New Orleans, 1) Houston.
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